Restomods were a late-1980s craze. For example, you may have noticed Car Craft’s Real Street Eliminator. In fact, a few grassroots restomod pioneers launched the movement while most hot rodders focused on drag racing, pro-billet street rodding, and the pro street wave.
The restomod movement in the muscle car industry sprang out of the advancement of factory production automobiles. In fact, this began to include more powerful engines, electronic fuel injection, and disc brakes. Moreover, they also included; better radial performance tire technology, computer-designed suspensions, and overdrive transmissions.
Domestic muscle cars from Detroit’s past were the starting point for restomods. And, the performance gap between traditional muscle cars and modern performers like the Camaro, Corvette, Firebird, Viper, and Mustang narrowed as factory technology improved throughout the 1990s (see which 1990s performance cars influenced the restomod movement here), leaving traditional muscle cars at a disadvantage. In the 1990s, anyone could go into a dealership and buy a brand-new factory muscle car with a warranty for less than the cost of the same make and type of automobile made 20 or 30 years before.
Older muscle car owners didn’t appreciate getting passed at stoplights or on mountain roads, so they hot rodded. As a result, they searched junkyards full of late-model autos and OE parts bins for retrofitted technologies. This, the restomod era was started.
Restomod builders were less concerned in traditional car shows or drag racing than they were in creating a muscle car that could perform as well as or better than a new Corvette or Mustang. However, Restomod builders valued appearances, but they were moving in a new direction (larger wheels, lowering, stance) that emphasized handling and stopping as well as acceleration.
What Is The Value Of A Restomod?
Restomod muscle cars are valued based on their popularity and how extensively they’ve been modified. Many of our readers know how much their beloved car is worth. However, the cost of making alterations might vary and doesn’t always affect its value. Whether you buy a restomod that has already been made or create one in your garage, the cost of a restomod can vary significantly, and picking up someone else’s stopped project can be a gold mine.
Farming out from Normal Vehicles
Most restomod muscle cars have less valuable body styles. For example, you wouldn’t start a restomod with a 1969 427ci COPO Camaro, even in bad form. Rather, start with a heavily worn six-cylinder or V-8 automobile. And, a restomod 1969 Camaro might be worth more, but a restomod COPO Camaro would be worth less.
Start with a low-cost project if you want to save money and make excellent selections. For example, Pontiac fans might start with a LeMans instead of a GTO. And, Chevy fans might start with a Malibu instead of a Chevelle SS396. Thus, Mopar fans might start with a 318-equipped Barracuda instead of a Super Stock Hemi vehicle. So, it’s not a hard and fast rule, but it helps hot rodders of the future learn from high-value automobiles.
Many firms sell engine performance, racing, and restoration parts for hot rods. In recent decades, a huge number of companies have specialized in modernizing classic muscle vehicles. “Restoration professionals” describe these companies.
Good restomods contain new sheet metal, body and paint goods, and restoration parts. You should explore restomods like fuel injection conversion, overdrive transmissions, high-performance suspension, and disc brake conversion kits.
Brake Restomod Estimated Cost: $700 – $2,000
When discussing a restomod’s stopping ability, horsepower and vehicle weight are always mentioned. Restomod builders always pick at least a pair of 11-inch front disc brakes over 50-year-old OEM brakes. Front 11-inch discs cost $700.
A classic restomod must have 12-inch disc brakes on all four wheels. Baer Racing, Wilwood, SSBC, Classic Performance Parts, and Performance Online have Ford, GM, and Chrysler solutions. Brembo, EBC, and Powerstop sell muscle car brake parts. Their websites don’t describe how to use application-specific kits for restomod classic muscle cars.
Wheels and Tires for Restomods, $1,500 to $2,000
Restomods want to perform everything better than stock, and the only way to achieve so is with better, bigger wheels and tires. Larger tire contact patches improve a car’s grip and performance. If you want a restomod look, you’ll need to replace your wheels and tires.
Restomod wheels and tires typically go up to 20 inches in diameter to accommodate larger disc brakes. Large wheel diameters (20 inches and up) are expensive and can hamper performance due to short, non-compliant sidewalls and high rotational inertia.
Tire Rack, Summit Racing, Jegs, and Discount Tire Direct have the best prices on restomod wheels and tires. Tire Rack’s visual interface is the best for selecting, combining, and pricing tire and wheel packages (see how we specced a set of wheels and tires here). Restomod-sized muscle-car wheel? Hot Rod’s top 15 hot rod wheels are recommended.
Suspension Restomod Estimated Cost: $1,600 – $5,000
Better horsepower, grip, and brakes damage antique car chassis, which were barely capable of higher performance when new. Defects in 1960s suspension geometry were only uncovered in recent decades, endangering restomod hopes. Suspension enhancements are essential in the restomod formula; otherwise, the other adjustments will be cosmetic.
Common suspension upgrades include shocks, springs, swaybars, spindles, control arms, suspension bushings, and subframe connections (for unibody automobiles). Suspension parts? Performance Online, QA1, Global West, Classic Performance Parts, and Hotchkis offer GM, Ford, and Mopar suspension systems (pictured above). Detroit Speed and Engineering and BMR benefit GM restomods; CJ Pony Parts and Gateway Old Mustang appeal to old Ford fans; while Reilly Motorsports and Magnum Force appeal to Chrysler fans.
Estimated Cost: $2,900 to $5,700 for Restomod Overdrive Transmissions
Restomods aim to increase efficiency, engine life, passenger comfort, and economy while keeping iconic muscle vehicle design. Restomods benefit most from an overdrive transmission.
Automatic overdrive gearbox, manual overdrive “stick” transmission, or Gear Vendors add-on overdrive can be fitted to most non-overdrive GM, Ford, and Mopar transmissions.
Overdrive transmissions reduce engine speed, improving engine wear, fuel efficiency, cooling system load, and cabin noise. A 700R4, AODE, 4L60E, 4L80E, or Gear Vendor overdrive conversion will be the least priced.
Any transmission switch requires consideration of floorboard tunnel space. Classic muscle cars are notorious for their tiny interiors, making a 4L80E or 4L60E Hydramatic a tight fit that may require additional clearance measures, as we observed in a 1967 Chevelle (see below).
Complex overdrive transfer kits require a bespoke tunnel patch panel or a prefabricated patch panel. We recently installed a Tremec five-speed overdrive and fabricated a tunnel for a 1974 Plymouth Duster. The construction methods are the same for Ford or GM.
Tremec’s five- and six-speed manual transmissions fit many makes, models, and years. American Powertrain, Silver Sport Transmissions, and Passon Performance for Mopars manufacture amazing manual overdrive gearbox swap kits.
The Automatic Transmission
Most automatic overdrive transmissions have four gears. The final drive ratio slows engine speed by 25-30% in high gear. Depending on whether you need a whole kit or simply a trans and converter, the self-shifter option will save you money.
Monster Transmission and Prestige Motorsports offer restomod-specific automatic overdrive kits with combined engine/transmission packages that take the guesswork out of creating a restomod. Bowler Transmissions manufactures Ford-specific 4R70W overdrive kits along with GM/Hydramatic 4L60E and 4L80E.
Engine/EFI Swap Restomod, Estimated Cost: $1,000 to $2,000
Restomod engines aren’t a category in and of themselves, and there isn’t a characteristic or collection of features that identifies them. However, if we apply the restomod concept—making everything operate as well as or better than a current factory hot rod—we must look at fuel injection (EFI).
You’ll want EFI’s versatility, torque, cold start manners, and throttle response whether you’re installing a new engine with EFI or replacing a classic V-8 small-block Chevy (or Ford Windsor or Chrysler LA-series).
For many restomod builders, removing the original engine and replacing it with a contemporary LS, Hemi, or Coyote V-8 is the only alternative. For a budget-friendly restomod, an EFI conversion that fits where a carburetor would be better.
Throttle Body Systems
These throttle-body-style EFI systems can use any carbureted intake manifold and air cleaner but have EFI power. Cold-start fuel management improves drivability, throttle response, and engine life.
FiTech, FAST EZ-EFI, Summit Racing, MSD Atomic EFI, and Holley Sniper are throttle-body EFI leaders. Holley Performance manufactures MSD, FAST, and Sniper. These bolt-on carb-style EFI systems are compatible with single- or dual-plane carbureted intake manifolds, making installation easy and affordable.
Most entry-level EFI systems have self-learning software—just turn the key and drive. A muscle car-era engine is a plus.
Pro Touring vs. Restomod
What is the difference between pro touring and restomod? This is a common question. And, while they both have lowered suspensions, gripping wheel/tire packages, and larger brakes, the primary differences are in performance and price. However, while a restomod attempts to bring a historic automobile up to or above the performance of a factory-issued modern muscle car, the pro-touring car (also known as a G-machine) is essentially a race car.
For what it’s worth, while the pro-touring car may appear to be a restomod, the performance has been upgraded to include bigger cams, race compound tires, roll cages, and a custom chassis. So, do you want to learn more about the distinctions? Here’s a link to our dedicated story.
How Much Does It Cost To Build A Restomod?
If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have a donor car, a stash of engines or other speed parts, or the ability to build a restomod, you might be in trouble financially. Moreover, on top of the expense of a solid-running donor car, a restomod conversion—using your existing muscle car in otherwise acceptable operational condition and your own labor—will normally cost another $15K in parts. Looking for motivation? To get your adrenaline pumping, check out the massive gallery of restomod muscle vehicles.
Restomod muscle cars combine a classic appearance with current performance and comfort to create the best of both worlds. Here’s everything you need to know about building one, as well as a massive gallery of restomods to get you started.